A week after I wrote an article for The Online Citizen about the DBS retrenchments opining that “a company’s first social responsibility ought to be to its employees”, the government has now come forward to say companies should be “socially responsible” when retrenching staff. On first glance, it sounded like what I was asking for.
I was wrong.
What the Acting Manpower Minister meant when he said “socially responsible” is this: Firstly, companies can inform the Manpower Ministry of job cuts; Secondly, they can seek the union’s help in explaining measures like wage cuts or implementing shorter work week. In fact, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will be releasing some “guidelines” in a few weeks on “how to manage excess manpower”.
Knowing how pro-business our government is, and judging from their current definition of “socially responsible retrenchments”, I shudder to think of what these guidelines are going to contain. Most of it will probably centre around how to manage the retrenchment and communication process. Like informing the unions maybe a few days earlier (consultation and negotiations optional), and providing counselling for retrenched staff.
I wonder if the guidelines will contain advice to profitable companies which have enjoyed many good years to build up their war chest, that they should not be considering retrenchments at this time. This was the main thrust of my article and is what I define as a socially responsible corporation.
I agree that in dire economic times like these, some companies will have no choice to retrench to stay afloat. But I think the government fails in its duty to its citizens when it puts the obscene profitability of large GLCs and MNCs ahead of people’s livelihood.
Of course, the government’s counter argument will be that if these companies go bankrupt and shut down, then even more people will lose their jobs.
Let’s cut the hyperbole. DBS, with $1.67 billion in net earnings this year alone, is not about to turn turtle. Such retrenchments could have been avoided, period.
Sure, the government has no legal power to order commercial enterprises not to retrench staff (since our employment laws are so weak), but their statements have an almost equally strong effect on companies who are always eager to remain in the government’s good books. Ambiguous signals like this latest statement from the Acting Manpower Minister only serve to embolden large corporations to think they can willy nilly cut staff as long as the process is communicated properly from a PR standpoint.